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Fla. Bill Would Legalize, Regulate Medical Marijuana

A bill legalizing medical marijuana in Florida is up for consideration by the Legislature. The bill’s sponsors say it should create jobs, generate tax revenue and cut costs for law enforcement. But some drug policy experts continue opposing any legalization of smoked marijuana.

Jodi James is executive director of a lobbying group called the Florida Cannabis Action Network. She said, she was supposed to meet with Tallahassee policymakers all week, but a phone call threw a wrench in the plans. She was talking to the son of Cannabis Action Network President Cathy Jordan, who lives with Lou Gehrig’s disease and grows her own medical marijuana plants in her home in Manatee County. James was listening as police suddenly raided the house. The Jordans’ son was narrating the scene to her.

She said, she heard, “They’re going after…they’re here for my mom’s medicine. My dad’s worried he’s going to jail. Are you guys taking me to jail? What’s going on?”

Police seized 23 plants from the home. Jordan lives in a wheelchair and credits cannabis for keeping her alive for the past 20 years. If she’s charged with a crime, she can use a medical-necessity defense in court.

But James said, a bill filed this week, called the Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act, would keep people like her from getting arrested in the first place.

She said, “I think the biggest tragedy in this right now is the fact that what the police seized is really a year’s worth of medicine for Cathy. Cathy’s going to be forced to go down to the black market.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) is sponsoring the bill, Senate Bill 1250.

“Who are we to tell a woman who is dying that she can’t spend the last six months of her life using this medicine because it feels better,” he said.

The bill is sponsored in the House by Rep. Katie Edwards (D- Sunrise). It says, outlawing cannabis is “rooted in outdated scientific evidence that does not make a reasonable distinction between its recreational use and beneficial medicinal use.” 
But some drug policy experts disagree.

"They must be smoking something,” said Kevin Sabet, who directs the University of Florida’s Drug Policy Institute and who was formerly a senior adviser in the Obama administration drug policy office.  
He said, cannabis does have beneficial effects, but people can take cannabis pills, and a cannabis mouth spray is going through FDA testing. 

“Do medical marijuana the right way, which would be non-smoked components delivered in a pharmacy, doctor’s care,” he said.

Sabet said, if the state legalized growing or smoking plants, it would lead to it becoming more widely available.

But Cannabis Action Network’s Jodi James says marijuana already is readily available, so why not let states regulate it?

“What you have in Colorado is a system of control, that makes sure the people that need to know where the cannabis is—i.e. law enforcement, doctors, researchers, patients—do,” she said.

And bill sponsor Jeff Clemens said, states like Colorado are a model for what he wants to see in Florida.

“We want to make sure we treat it in a little bit of a different way than, say, California has, where it’s just become a free-for-all,” he said.

The bill would allow patients to grow their own marijuana but only allow them to smoke it in the privacy of their homes. It’s an expansive piece of legislation that would affect everything from agribusiness to law enforcement as it relates to medical marijuana.

Clemens has also filed a bill that would exempt medical marijuana patients’ information from public record. Neither bill has been assigned to committee.